- Books, Literature, and Writing
Novel: The Ostrich Dance-Chapter Two
Absolom Drackens Jowi McOpondo had been his name. At the age of zero, he had been born to Opondo Jowi who hailed from Pap Jowi Omoro, a small village in Kanem. His mother was Awili Jowi, the daughter of the frequently flooded Noka plains in Eastern Rondo. So in Kanem had the younger Jowi been born, which was nature’s first major mistake.
At the age of five, Absolom started putting his best foot forward; much to the consternation of the villagers owing to his relatively tender age; to Omoro nursery school. It goes without saying that his first schoolmates were half a decade, or even more, older than him. Opondo, his father, would neither see nor have it any other way. He was a furiously chagrined man at the ways of his Onagi community. Their rites bored him. Their rituals bored him. Their numerous ceremonies bored him. Their rumors, their superstition, their values, and sometimes, even their very existence all bored him stiff. He was always heard to mutter that he who looks inwards to his tribe for support had no future. Opondo had taken to the idea of school for his son without a backward glance. It was too good an opportunity to miss in getting the young one away from the village bums. So, Absolom had to walk five kilometers to school everyday at the age of five, the second mistake.
At the age of fifteen, Absolom had learnt to assert himself the only way he knew, by beating all his classmates academically. By then, he was in his final Primary School year at Omoro Intermediate School. The boys and girls still in his class, the others having dropped out to get married, beat him in everything else: sports, manual work and fights. Not that he gave up competing, even though he was badly disadvantaged by age. On the contrary, he had a number of scars to prove his competitiveness. When it came to girls however, he was second to none. The simple village girls, with little or no education, could not resist such a brilliant, young, tall and bony, but handsome scholar. So he started at sex at fifteen, when most of his age mates could hardly approach a girl with intent. By the time he cleared school that year, he had passed with flying colors, having had over fifteen girlfriends to boot. He knew girls and their ways far too well to be a good boy, the third mistake.
At Ancelot High he met his contemporaries, age for age, brilliance for brilliance, experience for experience, they were just like him. Except that they didn’t hail from Kanem, they (at least most of them) had not walked to school five Kilometers everyday at the age of five and they had not had their fifteenth girlfriend at the at the age of fifteen. But even if some of them had done some of that, above all they were not Opondo’s sons. As it turned out, perhaps nature’s worst mistake was to grant only one child, and a son at that, to the old Village antagonist.
For old Opondo had quite a record. The scar lining the side of Paramount Chief Oduma’s face was a by-product of the blade of Opondo’s panga. The feared and colonially protected chief had extended his powers too far one morning, by interfering in a domestic quarrel between Opondo and his wife Awili. Actually, Awili, who was tiny and weak, had been doing much of the talking and all the weeping, while gigantic Opondo did the whipping. The cause of the fight was insignificant and thus remained unknown. However, since he happened to be passing by, the Paramount Chief decided to put the fight to a stop. So, using his two mean-faced musclemen, he had Opondo overpowered and literally de-whipped.
Not that it had been so simple. Opondo, a huge chunk of solid muscle, kicked and punched like a weasel gone berserk. By the time the whip was taken, both Opondo and his two assailants were bleeding. In addition, he had somehow managed to send a three-legged stool flying and squarely hitting the chief, who was ten yards away, on the chest. Then, eventually, he was subdued.
The very Paramount Chief, his feathers somewhat unruffled, opted to let the matter rest there. In any case, he had a very important meeting at the village square and did not want to be late. So, after issuing a few customary threats and curses, he set off with his two limping henchmen, whip in tow. Awili whose wrath had turned against her rescuers in the course of the struggle, continued mouthing unsavory expletives at the very Paramount Chief and his ilk, long after they had vacated the scene. What scared the big chief most was the leering smile that Opondo had maintained throughout the episode and as they left the scene. This time, he knew, he had wondered into the ogre’s den in the course of his duties.
Opondo was left seated on the ground, the side of his mouth bleeding. His terrible smile was becoming wider and his mischievous eyes twinkled with cunning excitement. Fights of any form really delighted him. Awili ran for a pot of water and some tattered piece of cloth to nurse his wounds. As she did this, their eyes interlocked and her face suddenly broke into a smile to match her husband’s. Sudden warmth filled her whole being. She loved this man with all the love a woman could muster. And that was plenty. Being a Saturday, Absolom, who was fifteen-years-old then, was not in school. Having watched the whole scene while quietly seated at the foot of a granary, he was as confused as usual at this sudden change of mood. Then he started smiling too. Soon, he approached his parents, crouched and helped in cleaning the wounds. At the moment life was at its optimum best for the family.
Such golden moments never occurred often enough. To find Awili and Absolom so relaxed and close to Opondo was very rare. Nevertheless, mother and son knew father too well. They knew that his quick hands would not be raised at Awili anymore. The fight would be taken to the Big Chief at his major meeting. It was quite clear to the latter two that Opondo would do just that. There was nothing on God’s earth that they could do about it. Not that they wished to do anything about it, since Opondo’s actions were always right in the long run. Little wonder that Absolom had merely watched as his mother was assaulted a while back. In his own weird way Opondo always acted in a manner that was eventually productive rather than destructive. His actions were like the rain, hate it if you wish, but you can’t stop it from falling.
Anyway, mother and son soon left for the village meeting. The local white District Commissioner [DC] would be there to communicate the latest whims of the good old white Royal Turkey in Britain. Many were yet to set eyes on the DC and had no hope of ever seeing his distant boss. So the occasion was very big, in fact an occasion could not get bigger than when the DC was coming to the village. For the villagers, this was much bigger than Christmas. On the contrary, it was all rubbish as far as Opondo was concerned. He thus remained at home, momentarily.
The Big Meeting
The village-square-cum-cattle-market at Pap Jowi Omoro, was a large area left between a few scattered grass-thatched, mud-walled shops. It doubled as the meeting place for important occasions. On that Saturday it was full to the hilt, save for the little shaded platform set aside for the Big Chief and his big visitor, who they were told, had the skin of a new-born baby. The people of Kanem, renowned latecomers, had to contend themselves with standing space on the outer fringes, despite the fact that this was their village. The pick of vantage positions had already been taken by People from far off Karogo and Labwi. People from such areas knew the importance of a Chief and a DC. The people of Kanem on the other hand, were still picking mapera from the bushes on their way to the meeting. As it was often said, if an aeroplane si passing across the sky, others look at it, but a Kanem man only sees as far as a ripe mapera on the tree.
All the same, the master of ceremonies, one tall, naturally gentle and soft spoken Janak Ajulo – who had graduated from life as an initiator, extracting six lower teeth from every lad who had come of age – set the pace of the occasion. The Big DC had not arrived yet. If fact, many people blamed Janak for the Big Man’s lateness since Janak’s daughter, Rawera, was the DC’s housekeeper and so she must have caused the delay by preparing breakfast late, or something. How Janak was to blame in that case was not clear. Not that it mattered; Janak was always to blame for one thing or the other where the alien government’s affairs were concerned.
He had to shout at the top of his voice to call the meeting to order. He then took it upon himself to apologize for the DC’s lateness, but was jeered into silence by the impatient crowd, some of who reminded him that this was not his former job. Next, he tried the angle of introducing the guests who had arrived much to the chagrin of the crowd. Who wanted to know the village headmen on such a day? Then, he tried to have the village preacher pray to which everyone protested, saying that it was premature. But Janak knew his people well, so he went several steps ahead in his program and called Ogila the player of Nyatiti, the Onagi traditional eight-stringed lyre, to keep the villagers busy. That worked like magic. The ten thousand plus villagers, young and old, headman and servant, all broke into a jig. It was amazing that neither microphone nor amplifier was needed to harmonize the movement of all the people. They knew the whole song anyway and blasted it several decibels into outer space. They picked up tempo with the song as wild ululations mingled with the dust to fill up the air. Music and movement had reached a critical crescendo when it came to a sudden united halt. If the natural synchronization was wildly exciting, then this sudden halt was truly amazing.
The Magic of the Music
Somewhere in the total silence, the lone voice of Ogila doled out a solo for the next verse. Everyone heard it. Everyone awaited their part with bated breath. During this interlude, Ogila called out the names of the legends and heroes of the community: Ramogi, Gor, Lwanda Chief Oduma- the last name was accompanied by a clearly audible “Shit” from a lone voice in the crowd- and even Janak Ajulo. Then with bang, the chorus and dance started again, drowning out the soloist Ogila and any other curses that may have been.
Absolom and his mother watched the proceedings quietly. Absolom had never really participated in village dances. He knew that his father would never approve and Opondo’s opinion meant everything to him. When the word “Shit’ was shouted out in the crowd, mother and son both knew who had said it. They knew that something terrible was bound to happen today. They knew they could not stop it. They knew it would be the showstopper. They knew who would do it and to whom. And so they could not join the ignorant crowd, but only watch from afar.
Opondo had quietly and discreetly followed his family to the meeting. He had then sneaked past them and worked his way firmly right up to the front lines. In his leather overcoat, expensive but discordant with the hot weather, he conveniently hid a panga. He had almost reached the front of the crowd when Ogila sung out the praises of Chief Oduma. He had sworn without realizing it. A few heads had turned in his direction momentarily and then the chorus mercifully drowned out everything else and swept the crowd away.
Music is the medicine of the soul. Janak’s choice had worked wonderfully. This was because the arrival of the DC’s entourage went completely unnoticed. To make matters worse, even the distinguished headmen were shamelessly doing their thing right there below the manually built shade. Janak himself was swaying in limbo, his eyes tightly shut. He held his walking stick like a guitar, or a woman, or whatever one made of it.
The DC was quietly elated at the grand welcome. However, the Great Paramount Chiefs in his entourage, Oduma included, were terribly embarrassed. In their opinion, an otherwise great occasion had been turned into a total absurdity. Everyone who was with the DC knew exactly who was to blame, Janak Ajulo of course.
At last the high power delegation worked its way through the crowd. A little whipping here and there, was necessary to create way. Those beaten would spin round to revenge, only to gape in awe at the big, scary white man they suddenly beheld, their clenched fists halfway through their unfulfilled mission.
Having got really bored by the crowd by this time, Opondo found great pleasure in using his improvised whip to create way for the DC. He needed neither invitation nor authorization to do so. When it came to using a whip, even if it was just a leather belt like he now had, he was a natural, so he really made light work of it. Soon there was a clear path through the sea of dancing humanity, to the dais.
On reaching the dais, the DC stood his bulky, seven foot frame before a grand leopard skin chair, leaving no doubt as to where he would sit. The seat that had been reserved for him was a leather sofa, one of its kind in the entire district. The chair he chose belonged to Chief Oduma at all times. This situation totally confused the chiefs. None of them wanted to sit close to the DC, since anything could go wrong and they would be the first to be called to answer. Being the host, Chief Oduma had no choice but to sit next to him. That is why his official throne had been put next to the white man’s seat. Now that sitting arrangements appeared to have changed, Chief Oduma calmly took the leather seat as the other four chiefs stood there in confusion. Chief Ochanda sorted himself out soon enough, quickly taking the seat to the far right. Chief Rawo did not miss a beat; he was soon standing next to Chief Ochanda. Then there was a bit of an undignified rush between the other two chiefs. Chief Ong’ala used his long legs to beat Chief Ojuka to the single seat they both eyed. That left Chief Ojuka right next to the biggest man around. The music went on.
DC Morton looked at the gyrating crowd. With his great height he could see quite far. Standing there in front of the crowd were the chiefs’ home guards, whips in their hands. They all wore stern faces, except for one who stood erect, with a big belt for a whip and an even bigger smile. The path through which the DC had come was quite discernible. Though it had been swallowed up, the people there were now standing still as they were already aware of his presence. In the far distance, a little beyond the crowd, there stood a woman and a boy. They were distinct by their disinterest in the goings on. Their eyes were fixed on the dais as though they were expecting something. The Nyatiti played on. Janak danced on. The crowd sang on. The DC looked on. His chiefs looked on. Everything was as it should be in this African village, except for one smiling home guard, a woman and a child. These three stood out in the crowd. For some reason the DCs eyes kept wondering back to them in turn. They fascinated him.
At last the music came to a stop with a bang.
Janak opened his eyes and the first thing he saw was the DC staring at him. The shock was palpable. It took him half a minute to gather his wits and another half to make a decision. A whole minute of silence, then, just as he decided it was time for prayer, the crowd began to cheer the DC and clap and gasp. This fortunately gave him time to reorganize himself. A minute later, he managed to call the crowd to order and the program started.
Prayers were followed by a little further entertainment and then the everone took their seats, the people jostling for spaces on the ground, for speeches. All the big chiefs spoke, adulating the distant Old Turkey’s regime. The last to speak was Chief Oduma, whose role it was to invite the DC to give his address.
As the chief began to speak, the DC noticed two things from his bird’s eye view even when seated. The lady and lad who were still standing across the horizon moved closer to each other clasping hands tightly and gaping fearfully at the dais. He then saw the smiling home guard move forward reaching into his rather heavy overcoat. He pulled out a cutlass. The chief notice him. The chief screamed. The crowd stood up. The chief tried to run. The smiling guard rushed forward. The other home guards ran to intervene. The smiling guard slashed the chief. The chief fell. The smiling guard bounded off, through the dais, into the bushes behind. The crowd wailed. The other guards chased. Everyone was on his or her feet. The shouting. The racket. The chaos. The confusion.
The DC noticed something that no one else did. As the assailant had fled, so had the woman and lad in the horizon.
“Who was that?” the DC asked Janak directly.
There was a long awkward silence.
“His name is Opondo,” answered Janak at length. “He is a warrior, except there is no war. If there were a war, we would rely on him. But, since there is no war, we all fear him.”
Janak uttered those words softly in deep reflection. There was a moment’s silence. Then the chiefs started talking all at the same time, condemning the event and the assailant. The crowd talked excitedly. They had all seen. The DCs Landrover, was brought, the injured chief was carried bodily, by volunteers, into it. The DC too got in, together with the chiefs and two of the volunteers. Then the Landrover drove off from the confusion.
Three weeks later, the government policemen finally arrested Opondo. He was taken to the DC, who could play a judicial role whenever necessary. After listening to the whole story from the criminal, and all the chiefs save for Oduma were there too, the DC gave his judgment. Although the joint council of chiefs had passed that he be taken to prison, the DC declared that Opondo be his personal guard. For the first time, even Opondo, who had been smiling as he always did in the face of adversity, opened his mouth simultaneously with the chiefs, in utter amazement.
So, in this way, Absolom got a government scholarship for the rest of his education. A lucky stroke you think, No, another bad mistake, Absolom had started to learn the secrets of the government from a rather tender age.